Lee Iacocca Forsakes Liberty as He Weds a Statuesque Ex-Stewardess, Peggy Johnson

updated 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 05/05/1986 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Matron of honor Karen Clark learned of the wedding four days beforehand, "just in time to go out and buy a dress." George Steinbrenner, principal owner of the New York Yankees and a principal pal of the groom, was given a scant few hours warning over dinner at a Manhattan restaurant.

Obviously, Chrysler chairman Lee Iacocca, 61, knows how to keep a secret. The automaker's April 17 wedding to former flight attendant Peggy Johnson, 35, was kept under tighter wraps than the blueprints for future car models. Only a handful of friends were present when the couple exchanged vows in the Cardinal's Chapel of New York's Saint Patrick's Cathedral at the crack of 8:30 a.m. Auxiliary Bishop Edwin Broderick, a friend of Iacocca, conducted the 15-minute ceremony, assisted by Cardinal John J. O'Connor. The latter presented the bride, a Methodist convert to Catholicism, with a rosary blessed by the Pope.

The marriage was the second for both bride and groom. Iacocca's wife of 27 years died of diabetic complications in 1983, and Johnson, one of four daughters born to a Kinston, N.C. tobacco farmer, had been wed for three months in the early 1970s. She became a stewardess in 1972. While on leave from Pan Am a decade later, Johnson worked as a volunteer with the Statue of Liberty-Ellis Island Foundation, headed by Iacocca. Peggy, who went on to work as an account executive at a New York advertising agency, met Lee through a mutual friend.

They were engaged in late 1984, but plans for marriage took a while to get into gear. "With his wife having died and for his children's sake, they needed to wait," figures Johnson's mother Naomi, a retired health care technician. "They needed to know one another and have some family time together."

Whether they'll find any of that time now that they're married seems uncertain. As America's most visible executive, Iacocca seems to pop up on TV more often than M*A*S*H reruns. His 1984 autobiography is still selling well, and there is talk, of course, of a possible bid for the Presidency. The automaker's new bride seems a willing dancer in this limelight, equally at home in Detroit's black-tie ballrooms or in box seats at Tiger Stadium. Though she said last year she would "be happy being a nice little homebody," that seems contrary to her nature. "Lee is on the go so much, he would rather skip the parties and dinners," says matron of honor Clark. "Peggy has a vitality about her, a get-up-and-go. Sometimes she would like to be on the go a little more."

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